The guard's eyes flicked from the Knights, to each other and then back to the Knights.
Gwaine raised an eyebrow.
The guards shrugged.
Arthur didn't know if this was some sort of war of facial expressions or a stalemate.
It appeared it was neither as the guards seemed to decide it was best to attack - although what gave them that idea Arthur couldn't imagine - and they made a move forward.
It took a while for Arthur to realise that it was he who had spoken.
He cleared his throat, stood up a little taller so that he could see the guards over the Knights and Merlin's head.
"I'll deal with this," he said.
The guards looked at each other, shrugged - again - and turned around. Gwaine was restrained by Lancelot as he stepped to follow them.
"And," Arthur looked around at the Lords, who were all regarding him and Merlin with varying degrees of suspicion and reproach. They thought he had known. Of course they did, he spent so much time with Merlin and - wait, how had he not known? "The meeting is now over, so - as I have several things to deal with now," - here he glared at Merlin who still wouldn't look him in the eye - "I would appreciate if the room could now be cleared."
The Lords all started to disperse slowly, muttering as they filed out. Arthur sighed, that he would have to deal with. Still, it wasn't his first priority at the moment.
No, his first priority was his rather troublesome idiot of a servant. Who had lied to him for years. And who he was supposed to execute. And who had magic.
And who had just saved his life.
Rather troublesome was probably an understatement.
"Merlin," he said, as though by saying his name he could somehow reconcile the servant with the- the sorcerer he had just seen.
"Yes, sire." Merlin turned to him and looked him straight in the eyes. Arthur could see everything in those oddly expressive eyes, and what he saw most of was: fear.
He pondered on that and realised, not without some surprise, that since learning of Merlin's magic he hadn't once even considered the pyre.
He didn't quite know what that said about him.
"I-" Arthur started. He rubbed the bridge of his nose as he broke off. "I don't know what to say." He looked round at the Knights who were no doubt having as difficult a time with this as-
Wait. None of them looked as though they were having any kind of difficulty with this at all.
His eyes scanned their faces, their entirely unsurprised faces, they all bore a resemblance to each other in the apprehension they bore, assumedly for Merlin's fate.
"Hang on a second," Arthur said and his voice was dangerously low. "Why am I the only one surprised by this?"
All the Knights, Gaius and Gwen exchanged guilty looks; Merlin was looking remarkably sheepish.
"My God," said Gwaine, with an over exaggerated step backwards, throwing his hand over his chest. "Merlin has magic! That is shocking. And unexpected." He considered for a moment. "And surprising," he finished with somewhat of a proud nod.
Arthur raised his eyebrows, Merlin turned to Gwaine and all the Knights looked distinctly unimpressed.
Gwaine looked round. "Anyone buying this?"
Slowly, they all shook their heads.
Gwaine shrugged. "Worth a shot."
"Appreciate it Gwaine," Merlin said.
"We were just coming to tell you, Sire," Gaius said.
"Right. Well, of course you'd know Gaius," Arthur shook his head. "Who else knew?"
He watched in disbelief as slowly every single person in the room - save for Merlin and himself - raised their hand.
He turned to Gwen, who was now standing at his side.
"I only just found out, Arthur. We were going to tell you."
"Which I said was a stupid idea," put in Gwaine and when Arthur glared at him seemed to realise what he had just said, although he continued completely unapologetically. "And I found out ages ago and had no intention of telling you, and I'm not going to say otherwise either."
Arthur looked to the other Knights.
"Sire, he has very good reasons," said Leon.
"Yes," put in Lancelot. "I mean, if you knew how many times he'd saved your life. I mean, the Griffin-"
"The fire at Jarl's castle-"
"The immortal army-"
"The other immortal army-"
"I think I need to sit down," said Arthur.
"Look Arthur," said Merlin. "I know this is a shock. And I am sorry I lied to you - not that I didn't have a good reason but I suppose that's not really the issue - but you have to understand that I have always looked after you and Camelot."
And there it was: that fierce passion yet again. It brought back memories of the occasional bouts of wisdom Merlin seemed to have from time to time, and they suddenly made so much more sense.
We don't know until we try…
One day you'll be a great king…
You're all mad…
Arthur smiled a little at the last one, however, he schooled his expression quickly as he remembered his annoyance.
"You're telling me," he said slowly. "That everybody knew about this before me?"
Merlin blinked, and then Arthur saw the slightest hints of amusement start to tease around his mouth. "Is that honestly what you're angry about?"
Arthur glared, after all, he could do without Merlin laughing at him, and yes, yes that was what he honestly angry about.
"Well, I can't pretend that it's not a little insulting."
OK, now he was really annoyed. Elyan and Lancelot now also seemed to be hiding smirks.
"And you can all stop smiling, as I could remind you that you have all lied to me as well."
That shut them up.
"It wasn't their fault, Arthur," Merlin said immediately. "If you're going to punish anyone it should be me."
"I agree," said Arthur; he had meant it to sound lighter than that, but by the way Merlin flinched and Gwaine lifted his sword he gathered he had not quite managed it.
"I wouldn't bother, Arthur," said Gwaine. "Maybe we'll find out who really would have won that fight."
Arthur raised his eyebrows, at the threat in Gwaine's voice; it seemed completely sincere. And he had a feeling that Gwaine wouldn't be the only one. Which was irrelevant, since he still wasn't going to arrest Merlin. And he was honestly a little offended that everyone thought that he would.
"Oh, relax, Gwaine," he said. "I am not going to arrest Merlin."
The statement did not bring the relief he had expected it to so he sighed and added:
"Or exile him."
Still nothing. Another sigh:
"Or execute him."
And finally all tensed shoulders dropped; Merlin let out a breath that he must have been holding for about five minutes. Gwen was smiling at him, as though she had known what he would do all along.
Well, at least someone had faith in him.
"It doesn't mean I'm happy about it," he said. He thought, then added, "Or completely understand it." He turned to Merlin, "Merlin, if you have magic, why on earth would you come to Camelot?"
"That," said Gwaine. "Is a good question."
As all the Knights swivelled to Merlin, he sighed, although Arthur thought that it might have been partially in relief. He wondered briefly how hard it had been for Merlin to keep this secret all these years, although, he thought wryly, looking round at the faces before him - all of whom had known before him, and yes, that still rankled - Merlin clearly hadn't done a very good job.
"Well, I was born with magic," Arthur's eyebrows went up at that. "And my mother thought that, well," Merlin gestured to Gaius. "That Gaius could help me with it."
Gaius coughed. "I did used to practice magic, sire."
Arthur nodded, "I know, Gaius."
"Right, anyway," said Merlin; he took a deep breath and said in a rush: "Basically, I have this destiny which means that I'm meant to help you to become the greatest King that Albion has ever seen. And you're meant to unite the lands of Albion and make it so it's safe for sorcerers again."
Arthur felt the overwhelming need to sit down again.
"Right," he said faintly. "Great." Then he paused, "How do you know that, Merlin?"
"The dragon told me."
"The dragon told y- well, of course he did," Arthur said sarcastically, thinking vaguely that if Gaius sprouted pink wings and confessed his overwhelming desire to be a fairy, it wouldn't surprise him anymore.
"Would that be the same dragon that was released mysteriously?"
"Ah, well, about that-"
"You released the dragon."
"Yes, but I didn't think he'd go around killing everyone, and I had to swear on my mother's life and- and, it was all very confusing."
"Merlin," said Arthur slowly. "Did you kill the dragon?"
There was a pause. "No."
"Did I kill the dragon?"
A longer pause. "…No."
"Did anyone kill the dragon?"
"No. But I made him promise not to attack again."
Arthur sighed, and said wearily, "I suppose because you're a Dragonlord or something."
There was a long silence.
"You're catching on fast, sire."
"I'm not completely thick, Merlin."
There was a silence that followed that, then Arthur watched as all the Knights began to laugh, Merlin shrugged and seemed to succumb to laughter as well, even Gwen and Gaius looked amused. Arthur watched, torn between amusement and anger, until he gave in.
And then he laughed along with them.
He waved them off once they had finished. "You'd better leave now," he said, waving them off. "And, Merlin?"
"You need to muck out the stables."
Merlin raised his eyebrows, then a grin burst out across his face. "Sire," he said. "That shouldn't take long at all."
"And you're not to use magic."
"What? But, Arthur-"
"Perhaps you'd prefer I arrest you?"
"Oh, Arthur," said Merlin, with somewhat of a condescending smile. "I never had any intention of letting you arrest me."
And with that, Merlin: his servant, a sorcerer, his friend swept out the room, probably to directly disobey his orders.
And Arthur couldn't help thinking that maybe things hadn't changed that much at all.
Ah, here it is... finally. Sorry about the wait on this chapter. It took me a while to get inspired for it, as all the big climax stuff happened in the previous chapter. Still, I hope you enjoyed this, I enjoyed writing it, anyway! Oh, Arthur being the last to know... most of you guessed how he would react and as that was the idea that initially sparked off this fic I hope I did this justice.
Alright, MASSIVE thank you to EVERYONE who has reviewed this fic; it really does mean a lot, and thank you for sticking with me to the end. :)